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The Dreaded Abeng
The Maroon's Secret Weapon

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On 'the face' of it, it might appear to be just a well polished old cow horn, but this traditional Jamaican and maroon instrument, among other functions, drove the 'daylight' out of the enemies!


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Today, as a follow up to the significant events in Jamaica's history, I'll take a quick look at the Jamaican abeng, correction, the Abeng. 

But just before, may I suggest that you take a quick look at the maroons? You'll gain a healthy background and so and deeper appreciation of this article. 

Go now and return here.

Back now? Ready? Ok.

What Is The Abeng? 

Pictured above, the abeng is made from an animal horn, usually from a cow, that is used as a pivotal communication tool by the maroons.

It is blown by putting the lips to a hole on the inner curve side while using the thumb placing, shifting and adjusting the thumb over the tip.

Senior, in her book, Encyclopedia of Jamaican Heritage, explained that the word 'abeng' come from the Twi language of the Akan people of Ghana, and means a musical instrument or horn of an animal.

By the way, here's a historical fact...

Did you know that the majority of the slaves in Jamaica originated from Ghana and the west coast of Africa. 

What Is The Abeng Used For?

As I indicated above, the abeng was essentially a communication tool used by the maroons conveying a complex set of codes and information without the understanding of the enemy.

It was used to.

  1. Send messages to the community (and over great distances)!

    And the maroon community knew how to differentiate the tones, pitch and rhythms to understand the message. 

    Messages included warnings of imminent attack and to evade capture, announcing the birth of baby, or notice on the death of a member, etc.

  2. Keep in touch during wars

    Once sounded, not only does it alert the community, everyone (the warriors, women and even children) knows what to do.

  3. Drive fear in the enemies!

    The plantation owners and colonial authorities knew that the maroons used it as a communication tool, especially during conflicts and uprisings, and so the maroons exploited that by strategically blowing to confuse and cause unease among them, sometimes even causing the soldiers to take flight!

Today, is mainly used in ceremonial activities and on symbolic national occasions. It is also used to alert the community of important events.

Read also: The important dates and events in Jamaica's history

Watch Video! A Maroon Blows The Abeng At Asafu Yard!

On a recent trip to the Charlestown Maroons in Portland, I captured this video of a symbolic blowing of the abeng.

Click the PLAY button to watch.

The history and culture of the maroons is fascinating! I suggest you take a trip to one of the communities to experience it firsthand. 

I also suggest that you read my article, a review really, on the Charles Town Maroons. A wonderful, insightful and educational trip. You can find the article here.

You might be interested in these too

Other Pages Related To The Abeng

References


  1. "Celebration Of Jamaica's Heritage", Jamaica Gleaner, http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/art-leisure/20180304/celebration-jamaicas-heritage, Published Sunday March 4, 2018, Accessed March 7, 2020
  2. Senior, Olive, Encyclopedia of Jamaican Heritage, 2003
  3. Black, Clinton V. History Of Jamaica, 2005
  4. "The Abeng", Wikipedia.org, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abeng, Accessed March 7, 2020
  5. Simpson, Joanne, M. Why Heritage, "A Guide To The Importance Of Our Jamaican
  6. "The Maroons and the Abeng", Jamaican Information Service,  https://jis.gov.jm/information/get-the-facts/the-maroons-and-the-abeng/, Published January 4, 2017, Accessed March 7, 2020 
  7. JIS, "Freedom Road" 
  8. Sherlock, Phillip & Bennett, Hazel, "The Story Of The Jamaican People", Ian Randle Publishers, 1998
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